Tag Archives: Triplets

Deca

4 Jun

1: Update

I’ve mentioned this in past updates, but my wife and I are foster parents. In 2016, we began fostering a 4-year-old boy who’s now an 8-year-old boy. In 2018, two of his biological sisters (now 13 and 14) joined us. We never planned on 3 children, that would be too much serendipity. But the Universe, unsympathetic to our aesthetic ideas on thematic arcs, said, “No. You’ll parent three. Three is what you’ve been prepared to handle. It has to be three.”

As I type these words, we’re in the final stages of adoption. Without revealing anything that might put us in legal murkiness, the duration of our childrens’ particular case is in record-breaking territory. All told, our kids have been dealing with impermanence for nearly 5 years and we’ve spent the majority of that time working to change that. We’ve been playing The Long Game so long, we sometimes forget there’s an eventual finish line.

We love them like crazy. We’re so proud of them. They’ll be adopted soon. We can’t wait.


2: Asshole Hat

When I began this online journal 10 years and a handful of months ago, the term “blog” wasn’t yet regularly inspiring eye-rolls, but the internet marches on. Nevertheless, this wasn’t my first blog and I’d learned a couple of lessons from previous blogs that I decided to bring to Tips On Triplets.

The biggest lesson: stay on topic. This was never meant to be a spot for silly cat videos or career self-promotion or political meanderings. This was meant to be a parenting blog about the unique experience of having and raising triplet children. Sure, there’d be art, there’d be storytelling. Tone: mostly light and funny with the occasional swollen-heart moment. Then 6/4/2011 happened and TOT quickly transitioned into a blog about grief.

While I’m very politically opinionated, I made the decision right from the jump that I’d leave politics out of my writings here. Conservative, liberal and anything in-between, I didn’t want to alienate my readers by spouting off about gun legislation or socialized healthcare. I might care deeply about how you vote and what you believe, but, I decided, this blog wouldn’t. All were welcome, particularly parents, especially triplet parents.

That said, 2020 was a hell of a year and, throughout, I found myself embroiled in many debates about topics that were thrown into the spotlight by COVID-19. In particular: masking, social distance and vaccines.

I’ve watched in horror as well-meaning, loving friends (most of whom are parents themselves) drank the Kool-Aid of Personal Liberty, choosing an entitled sense of “freedom” over health, safety and love for their communities and families. In my weaker moments, I’ve derided and lashed out directly at these people, losing friendships in the process.

“What am I doing?” I’ve sometimes thought later. “No one has ever been scolded into changing their stance on anything. What’s my endgame here? I’ve sacrificed relationships and convinced exactly no one. Am I part of the problem?”

And the thing I’ve come to recognize is this: I have an admittedly low tolerance for parents who are unable to consider a reality in which they might one day be sitting where I’m sitting.

Or, putting on my asshole hat to say it more plainly: You’re not invulnerable. Your loved ones are not invulnerable. It can seem inconceivable that the universe is so cruel a place that the people you love most would be taken from you. In a way, I’m happy for your naiveté. And the last thing I want is to inspire people to live a life of perpetual paranoia. But ten years ago today, I sat in a tiny room with my wife and experienced a reality I was never built to handle. And that reality, I promise, isn’t eager to salute you for playing fast and loose with your health, the health of your loved ones, or the health of your community.

This isn’t a political blog, but nevertheless: Listen to the experts. Honor the science.

Vaccinate yourself and your family.


3: Ten

Speaking of that tiny room, I recall a question forming in my brain that day that I’d wind up asking myself often in the ensuing weeks and months:

How will I feel in 10 years?

And it looks like, somehow, 10 years is here.

I wondered if it would still hurt as much as it did that day. (It doesn’t.) I wondered if it would still hurt at all. (It does.)

I wondered how people keep moving with their lives, how publicly it was appropriate to grieve, how soon was too soon to think about more children, what this meant for my career, what other people who have gone through similar circumstances do to cope. I wondered what a soul is, where Rudyard, Desmond and Oscar were and how much they understood.

Etc.

And while lots has happened over the past ten years, I’m surprised at how recent June 4, 2011 still feels. I remember Dr. Chao examining my wife, turning to the nurse and saying, as poker-faced as she was able, “Do you understand what you’re looking at?” I remember Carey’s breathing. I remember the nurse who cried as I cut Rudyard’s umbilical. I remember the quinoa salad Katherine dropped off at the hospital for us. I remember the smell of the boys. I remember my dad’s voice on the phone when I told him. I remember using my phone to update the blog with this entry, my sons’ bodies two feet away. I remember our pastor friend, Jerry, smiling sincerely and saying, “Oh, look at them,” before pronouncing a blessing on three boys who had been dead for hours.

Truthfully, I’m grateful that this still hurts, ten years later. It seems strange to say, but I hope it hurts forever.

I’ve mentioned this before, but the profundity of the insights, over 10 years, have flattened. I wish I had new wisdom, but I don’t think I do. I still miss them, still wish they’d lived, still dream of three troublemaking 10-year-olds in our house. I’m wondering if they’d be complaining about having to wear masks to school on their birthday. I’m wondering how well they’d get along with the three we’re adopting.

And I wonder how it’ll be at 20 years. Or 30 years. Will I always do this? “Would Desmond be married by now?” “Would Oscar be an accountant?” “Which one would have had children of his own first?” Will I always speculate on what might have been?

I really don’t know. I suppose I’ll continue taking it a year at a time.

But for now: Rudyard, Desmond, Oscar. I met you and said goodbye to you 10 years ago today. I’m still proud of you boys. Your mom and I still remember, still think of you every day.

Here’s to a decade of loving and missing you.

Children Who Exist and Children Who Don’t

4 Jun

A friend and I were talking recently about fatherhood. He mentioned that, before he had children, he’d always had a feeling that there was a part of himself that would be incomplete if he missed out on it. He knew it had to be part of his life, part of his journey.

I told him I couldn’t relate to that at all.

In fact, my pre-children mindset was just the opposite. I felt a profound burden to not have children, to not bring more people into this. I felt that the Earth has been asking us for the last several generations to slow down, chill out, give her a break with all the kids. We need to catch our breath with the destruction of the environment. We need to get a handle on racism and poverty. We’ve had our foot on the gas so long that we’ve failed to realize the engine isn’t working anymore and we’re flooding it. 

MORE KIDS MORE KIDS MORE KIDS.

My friend, like me, is a foster parent. He has biological children of his own, but also made the decision with his wife to foster-to-adopt. “I feel you,” he said. “It makes sense. Children in the system, that’s where the need is. Loving and taking care of who’s already here.”

“That’s my thing,” I said. “I want to contribute to the healing and the building. I had three children that were biologically mine and they died the day they were born. They existed and I loved them and I still love them. But they were a surprise. And I couldn’t help it, I wondered if they would wind up hurting the world more than helping.”

Then he dropped the bomb: “I love [adopted child] as much as [biological children]. I didn’t think that was possible, but it is. If I’d known that, I wonder if I’d have made the choice to have biological children at all.”

I’m writing this in 2020, on the ninth birthday of Rudyard, Desmond and Oscar Bear. These annual entries have become letters to the future, a check-in to be rediscovered later.  Here’s what’s happening as of this moment, Star Wars opening crawl-style:

Turmoil! The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged, terrorized, quarantined and suffocated the global community.

In America, George Floyd, an unarmed African American man, was killed at the hands of panicked and angry police officers, sparking protests, riots and unrest, further polarizing a nation at war with itself.

All of this is presided over by a corrupt President who, most recently, teargassed peaceful protesters to clear a path for a photo op of him holding a bible in front of a church….

Maybe these are the ashes, the fertilizer that will one day accommodate the seeds of new life and new hope. Maybe this is a ramping-up to ultimate destruction. Too soon to tell.

But before any children of my own existed, this is the world I didn’t want to bring them into. I didn’t want to burden them with it, or it with them. Back when my children were a possibility, a concept that I could say “no” to, saying “no” made the most sense to me.

But sometimes there are surprises. And sometimes those surprises turn out to be spontaneous triplet boys. And when the switch happens, when children transition from ideas to flesh and blood, the whole thing changes. “Should they exist?” Asked and answered. 

Yes, they should.

I still believe in Heaven for Beginners, which means I believe that the Bear Boys are looking at all of this with perfect clarity and understanding and love. Love for me and my wife and our three foster children. Love for George Floyd. And Derek Chauvin. And Donald Trump. And everyone everywhere for all time always.

And maybe they’ve been spared all of this. Maybe it’s a mercy. Maybe there’s some sort of cosmic right-ness to birthday candles on our mantle rather than birthday candles on three cakes today. Fuck that, but maybe.

But we’re having the conversations in our home that we would’ve had with our boys, had they made it. And not to get too creepy, but I sometimes sort of feel my boys guiding us through it. Look, I know, go ahead and eye-roll, but no kidding around: I want their perfect perspective on Coronavirus and privilege and BLM and the environment and every so often I wonder if they’re helping to give me a glimpse of what’s good and true. Maybe, in my better moments, I get to be their voice.

I’m glad they existed. I’m glad they weren’t an idea I said No to. I’m glad they made the jump from conceptual to literal and are teaching my wife and I how to best love the three flesh-and-blood children in our home, right here and now.

But more than any of that, today, right now, I wish they’d lived.

Back to One

4 Jun

ME: Days off are hard to come by. I was hoping for a little more fun and relaxation when I put in to take today off for my birthday a couple of weeks ago.

CAREY: I know, but Little Man is sick and can’t go to school. That’s the way it goes.

ME: I’m not trying to complain, it’s just a bummer. Stuck at a Pediatrician’s office.

CAREY: Well, maybe later this evening we can do something fun.

ME: Really?

CAREY: Yeah. We can all watch a kid’s movie together. Then we can play that owl board game he likes so much.

ME: …

CAREY: What.

ME: Nothing.

CAREY: What.

ME: Well, those things aren’t fun.

CAREY: I know, but Little Man is sick. That’s the way it goes.

 

She’s right. That’s the way it goes these days. When you have a four-year-old living under your roof, your schedule is more or less spoken for.

You know? I should rewind a little.

My triplet blog has become a reliably annual affair. It’s not that I don’t think about it throughout the rest of the year. It comes to mind often. Six years ago today, we met and lost our triplet sons Rudyard, Desmond and Oscar. I think of them every day and even now I’m occasionally hit with a surprise pain, almost no warning. Gut shot in the middle of a meeting or during my morning commute. You grit your teeth and ride the red wave. You get through it.

And even though grief is never really, truly over, a few years ago we made the decision to move ahead to the next thing. We’d try again. We weren’t, as they say, getting any younger.

Admittedly, my heart was only half in it. And maybe nature knew, because, after about a year and a half, it became clear that our prime fertility years were behind us. Specialists assured us we were ideal candidates for all manner of treatments and procedures and Just say the word, you’ll be in Healthy White Baby Country lickety split.

But on that issue I was firm. My personal philosophy was such that expensive, medically heroic measures in the name of fertility were difficult to justify in these troubled times. Literal millions of children are in desperate need of loving homes inside our own borders, not to mention the profound need overseas. Understand, that sentiment isn’t meant to indict or alienate my good friends who have participated in fertility treatments (all great, loving parents). In fact, the vast majority of triplet parents in the world partly owe their full quiver to advancements in fertility science. But for me, personally, I couldn’t do it.

So, then… what? Overseas adoption? Foster care? Maintain our DINK status and run out the clock, insulated by disposable income?

I’ll spare you the blow-by-blow of the months and years of vacillation, the tears, the arguments, the starts and stops. In November, we completed our certification and became foster parents to the coolest kid I’ve ever met, a tow-headed four-year-old. I wish I could share his name, his face and his story, but alas.

Carey and I love him. Truly and honestly. When I looked at the remains of my boys six years ago, I remember my own heartbreak about the fact that they’d never grow to become strong, healthy men with big hearts and wise souls. But I look at this kid each morning and it’s my continual prayer for him. “Create in him a clean heart and renew his spirit.” My biggest priority is helping him become the sincere, confident adult my own boys never had the chance to be.

But here’s the thing, and this shouldn’t go unsaid: when we mention our Foster Parent Adventure to people who know about our story, they’ll often give us a satisfied smile and a knowing nod that seems to say, “Yes. That makes sense.”

I promise. It doesn’t.

This journey is the exact opposite of intuitive. Take two reasonably intelligent adults who met and lost their three children on the same day and offer them the chance to involve themselves in a situation that will almost certainly end in tears and heartbreak. A situation fraught with added stressors in the form of court dates, mysterious behavior issues and government accountability. And that’s not even mentioning the surreal experience of saying the word “yes” on a phone call and, two days later, having a four-year-old you’ve never met with issues and traumas and stories you have no idea about dropped off at your house.

“Thanks for parenting him. We’ll let you know when it’s time to give him back.”

It’s a beautiful and difficult thing. I always wondered what sort of a father I would be and I’m finally finding out.

(On a scale of Awful to Awesome, I’d rank my current dad skills at an “Iffy” with signs of slow improvement.)

Again, though, this kid is amazing. I could go into detail, but to sum up: his life is difficult, but he loves it anyway.

Six years ago, I wondered what my future life would be. Could we find or build a situation that would replace what’s lost, that would fill the hole?

Nope. No dice. But maybe that’s okay. This is a whole other thing. A scary, weird, unnatural, fun, frustrating, exhausting, hilarious, ridiculous other thing.

Places, everyone. Back to one. Let’s change things up a bit, try some improv. Everybody set? Still rolling? Sound speeding. Quiet, please. And:

Action.

An Actual Tip

4 Jun

It’s not inconceivable that part of the modest traffic that this blog manages to attract are new and expectant triplet parents. Maybe, like me years ago, you’re trawling the internet, looking for wisdom and advice about how to handle the task of having and raising three individuals at the same time. Well, today I’m going to try something I haven’t attempted in an awful long while: an actual tip, as it were, on triplets.

But since this is TipsOnTriplets and nothing’s easy-breezy, before I get to the advice, I’ll start with a story. I like to call it My Greatest Moment As A Triplet Parent.

Triplet pregnancies are fraught enough, but Carey’s had the added peril of Lupus, a condition she’s lived with since college. Every moment of our boys’ gestation would need close monitoring, which is what took us to Long Beach’s Magella Medical Group, specialists in high-risk pregnancies.

As you might expect, I had a jones to document everything with an eye toward eventually cutting together a highlight video of the pregnancy and eventual birth of the boys. I was on the lookout for odd moments, hopeful moments, important moments… anything that could communicate the nervous frenzy of the time, assuming we’d one day appreciate the look back.

So we arrived at Magella Medical Group for our initial consult and tests, a situation ripe for the video reel. And since the idea of producing a video had only occurred to me a few days prior, this was going to be one of the very first moments of the eventual edited piece. So I got to work grabbing b-roll of the building, the sign, the elevator ride up to the office. I imagined all of this cut together montage-style atop a heart-swelling music bed.

magella-sign

elevator

We entered and I was getting footage of everything, no matter how mundane. Carey signing in. Carey’s blood pressure being taken. No moment too small.

sign-in

We entered an exam room and an office supervisor told us to have a seat. I pulled out my phone to grab a shot or two of Carey getting situated. The office supervisor said, “Just so you know, we unfortunately can’t allow any video taken here in the office.”

I said, “What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s one of our rules. I could explain all of the liabilities behind it, but suffice it to say it’s our policy here.”

“What about photos?”

She hesitated. “Photos are ok, maybe just a couple. It’s video we can’t allow. It looked like you were about to record with your phone, so I have to mention it.”

I thought about it for maybe two seconds. It made sense: an office specializing in high-risk pregnancies meant they’d likely seen quite a few pregnancies go badly. Failed pregnancies = angry parents = looking for someone to blame = “evidence” gathering, however legit, however spurious = legal battles = headaches the Magella Medical Group would just as soon avoid. I should also point out that the good people at Magella are as smart and conscientious as they come. It’s a wonderful place and we were lucky to be there. “I get it,” I said.

And that’s when My Greatest Moment As A Triplet Parent happened:

I lied.

“No problem, I won’t take any video. Maybe just a couple of photos.”

As reasonable as the Magella Medical Group’s policy on video capture was, it was a rule I just wasn’t going to follow. Sure, I thought, I could respect the wishes of the office. It’s their space, they get to decide what’s allowed. On the other hand, I pictured myself a decade in the future, me and three 9-year-olds huddled around a laptop. I would play the video their dad shot when they were still in the womb, showing how excited their parents were to meet them, how committed we were to taking every precaution to keep them safe and healthy.

Or I could tell them the story of why we didn’t have any video because we followed a lame f&%#ing liabilities rule.

The office manager left the room and I started shooting. And that’s how the rest of the morning went. I caught some great moments: The doctor telling us how the placentas work. Our hearing their heartbeats for the first time. Poring over ultrasound prints, relating to the camera what we’d just found out about our then-healthy three.

doctor

ultrasound

And stern looks from the staff. “Nope, just lining up a great photo moment,” I’d tell them, video rolling.

Of course, the video I really wanted to make was never made. But I did use the Magella footage in the memorial video I cut together after the boys passed. And you know? It’s not only my favorite moment in the whole memorial video, it’s footage I wouldn’t trade for all the riches in the whole wide world. While it was the postmortem footage of the boys (4:40) that caught the interest of The Daily Beast, BBC World Update and Good Morning America, it’s the Magella material (1:01) that makes my heart the happiest. Because there it is, in full-color, living, breathing, 24 fps shaky glory: two expectant parents who love their children more than anything, full to the eyeballs with excited, terrified, nervous anticipation. That’s the real stuff. That’s where life is.


Ok, that was quite a wind-up to get to the point of this post and the reason we’re all here: a Tip on Triplets. So here it is.

As a triplet parent, nature has already decided to chuck your special ideas about the traditional way of doing things right out the window. You have to wing it, you have to make it up as you go along. And the world is loaded with rules and philosophies about how you’re supposed to handle these three little aberrations.

These triplet children of yours are a messy, imperfect miracle. Listen to what the critics and the experts have to say. Take it in. Consider carefully. But keep in mind:

These children are yours. You make the rules.

That’s really it. You get to decide. If you need to go rogue, man, go rogue. This isn’t twin parenting and lord knows it sure as hell isn’t singleton parenting. It’s a whole other thing that demands reserves that John and Jane Q. Public don’t fully understand.

If you need to shoot the video, god’s sake, SHOOT THE VIDEO.

Go nuts. It’s up to you. The status quo was miles back, do your own thing.

That’s all.

(But, you know, within reason. Vaccinate your kids. I mean what are you, a bunch of toothless hill people?)

Fire, Glass, OH MY GOD

4 Jun

broken_glass

I had a loose mental sketch of this year’s entry. It was going to be called “#braveface” and it was going to be about a new sort of grief (new to us anyway) that we’ve only recently begun to understand and that’s the grief surrounding infertility and miscarriage. Take my word for it: it was going to be a really sensitive and stirring post with fat, salty tears in both the telling and the reading. Boy, were you in for some kind of treat.

But forget all that. I’d rather talk about something that happened a couple of hours ago.

TOT readers will recall that, a year ago, I wrote something to fellow grieving parents who are, like us, trying to figure out how to navigate the unique pain of losing a child or children. I mentioned some of the things we do on June 4. Nothing exotic, but we take time for our boys. We take the day off work. We try to get out of the house. And on the minute of each of their births, we light a candle and say a word or two.

And that happened. We’re blessed to have friends and family who remember three little men who would’ve been four years old today. People are kind and thoughtful with texts, comments, cards and even the occasional gift. “We love you.” “We’re thinking of you and RDO today.” “We remember.”

It genuinely makes the day easier. And in a strange way, I’ve almost begun looking forward to June 4. It’s painful remembering, but it’s also good. It’s a relief. And it fills my heart to hear from people who love us and love children they never got a chance to meet.

Anyhow: a couple of hours ago.

We were doing our thing. Rudyard was born at 6:28 AM, so we lit a candle on our mantle near his urn and said a word or two. Through the years, the mantle has gotten pretty busy with gifts, art and mementos. There’s a lot going on and most of it’s dedicated to the boys, so it makes sense to pick that as our Remembering Place.

7:03. Desmond. We lit a candle, took a moment or two. Oscar wasn’t until 8:40, so after Desmond’s candle, we took some time to do morning things, like brewing tea and replying to a few texts and emails on our phones. My sisters had gone out of their way this year to purchase memorial gifts and we were in the process of thanking them when I discovered our wifi was out. Specifically, our living room wifi extender wasn’t giving a signal.

The wifi extender, I should add, that’s plugged in just above the mantle.

Best thing for that is the old unplug/replug, so, careful as you please, I reached around the artwork, knickknacks, cards, mementos and flaming candles and grabbed the wifi extender. I pulled. It stuck. I worked it back and forth, harder, harder.

If you can see where this is headed, you’re smarter than I was.

One final tug and the extender came flying out of the wall, crashing into our meticulously manicured memorial. The objects of our solemnity flew through the air and exploded onto the ground. Rudyard’s candle burst into a million pieces, with glass, flames and hot wax ricocheting through our living room.

Carey was screaming her head off (they haven’t invented a font big enough):

“OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD!!!!!”

We flew into action, isolating the cat from the scene, sweeping glass, vacuuming rugs, chipping solidified wax from the floor and walls. In the end, we had to move couches and impromptu-redesign the Memorial Area. There was swearing and bickering. At one point, Carey cut her hand. Our Mourning Morning was a mini Roland Emmerich film, a cacophony of injuries and destruction.

We replaced candles and put the room back together in time for Oscar’s moment (whose candle Carey lit, as I can no longer be trusted).

But, you know, as we were in the backyard, beating glass shards from the rug, I told Carey, “I’m glad this happened.”

“What?”

“I’m serious! I am!”

“Well that’s dumb.”

And she’s probably right. But, man, that’s life and that’s grief. You can meticulously plan all you want. You can manufacture all the solemnity in the world, but in the end, you’re gambling against the reality of the chaos curve and you’re going to find that the curve usually wins. Life, grief, whatever you want to call it isn’t as pretty as we’d like it to be. It’s not a Fellini film, it’s a 2nd grade play. The music tends to swell at the wrong time and the actors will likely trip over their costumes, get distracted, flub their lines. Forget all about grace and majesty. Just get through the performance without burning down the stage and call it a win.

Grief sucks. Death is bullshit. Really: it’s a bonafide pile of glistening, sun-kissed bullshit.

And what can you do? My sons are gone, but I get to say I met them. So maybe it was under the messiest possible circumstances. Maybe that’s better than not meeting them at all.

Since that’s pretty weak as a wrap-up, here’s one last thing: my wife has, in the past, had the good taste to post music that reminds her of our triplet sons and I think I’d like to do the same before I go. About a year and change ago, I discovered three songs, all covers, that I found myself playing over and over and I realized each one made me happy because each reminded me of one of my boys.


Rudyard’s song is the last thing anyone would expect me to post, but, man, Josh Weathers destroys it. The big, salty tears I promised earlier are all here and when I hear this, I remember my brave boy:


Desmond’s song is the least surprising thing in the world. It’s his namesake and it’s as fun as he would have been. I think, when the Beatles wrote it, this is what they were going for:


Oscar’s song is how I like to think of Oscar: clever, strange, innovative, funny. It’s one of the greatest songs of all time, performed in a way The King never intended:


Today, boys, you would have been 4.

Love you. Miss you.

The Land of Do-As-You-Please

4 Jun

“Hello. My name is 1)_____.
Today I’m grieving the loss of 2)_____,
who passed away on 3)_____.
He/She/They was/were my 4)_____.
His/Her/Their loss makes me feel 5)_____.
In closing, I’d also like to say 6)__________________.”

 

Three years into grief, it’s not difficult to conjure images and memories of those first days and weeks. “Overwhelming” doesn’t quite say it, it’s a hurricane of cheek-cracking, Shakespearian proportions. You’re asked to dig down into your own guts and scoop out reserves that you’ve never suspected were there. When you’re at your lowest moment, you’re making decisions that, at the time, you imagine will haunt you the rest of your life if you choose poorly.

“Cremation or burial? Urn or Casket?” “Memorial or no memorial and if so, when/where/how and who’s coming?” “Should I begin some sort of tradition?” “Should I join a support group?” “If we still want other children, shouldn’t we take immediate steps in that direction?” “Should I take depression medication?” “How much time should I take off from work?” “How much time do I have to cancel this or return that?” “Should I travel?” “Should I sell the house and move?” “Should I kill myself?”

“What if I do this wrong?”

And you ask for help and guidance and, with luck, you have people in your life who are as helpful as anyone could reasonably be. But their help essentially comes down to one, single, frustrating piece of advice:

DO WHATEVER YOU WANT.

It’s not meant to add to the frustration, but, of course, it does. And to be fair, what else would you expect them to say? It’s your loss, your grief.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve received a handful of emails and blog comments and even one or two in-person questions from people who have become reluctant members of the club Carey and I have belonged to for the past 3 years, namely the Brother/Sisterhood of Grieving Parents. “What should I do?” they want to know. “What did you do?”

What we did and what we continue to do isn’t a guidebook or a roadmap for others by any stretch, but today, on my boys’ third birthday, I thought it might be helpful to get specific.

A few things we’ve done:

 

urns

We decided on cremation and chose urns for our boys. A friend of ours (and client of Carey’s) runs a mortuary and was very helpful in presenting options to us. He suggested mixing their ashes and keeping them in one urn. Since we’d gone to such lengths to preserve their individuality, we preferred to give them separate urns. Rudyard’s is the reddish-bronze, Desmond’s is the silver and Oscar’s is gold. We keep them on our living room mantle.

 

sunflowers

At the memorial, we presented the urns in the center of three sunflowers which were in three square glasses. Since then, each week, Carey brings home three fresh sunflowers from the store. We’ve kept a steady rotation in the glasses ever since. Sometimes they’re in the kitchen, sometimes in the dining room, sometimes near the urns. It lifts our spirits to see them.

 

albums

On the day, we took over 100 photographs of the handful of moments we had with our boys. While, it’s true, we’re choosy and protective of who sees them, we had prints made of all of them and keep them in a couple of small photo albums.

 

carey-tattoo jer-tattoo

We decided on tattoos to remember them. Carey has their names in script on the side of her foot and I designed their first initials with the date of their birth into artwork for my left wrist. It’s the only tattoos either of us have.

 

office-artwork

Recently, Carey and I collaborated on a piece of artwork for our studio/office. The birds are three finches done in black ink and white acrylic. The background is collaged from pages from vintage books by Rudyard Kipling and Oscar Wilde and also some sheet music of the Beatles’ Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, which mentions Desmond.

 

Last year, for reasons beyond my understanding, the news media became intrigued by our story. Specifically, our memorial video, which shows footage of our boys’ remains shortly after their passing. We were interviewed by The Daily Beast, BBC World Update and Good Morning America about our story. It was a great opportunity to talk about the pain that parents of stillborn children experience.

Our interview with Dan Damon of BBC World Update:

 

From time to time, I’ll take part in open mic events at a coffee house in Long Beach. In the past, I’ve read a story inspired by the boys and, last week, I mentioned them in a presentation I gave about my personal passion-issue, which is gun violence in the United States. Amid true-life anecdotes, statistics and a brief history of firearms, I spoke about the Sandy Hook tragedy, recalling the blessing it was to have the opportunity to comfort my children as they passed, a privilege taken from many parents whose children are victims of shootings.

In general, whether it’s home decor or small life decisions, we gravitate toward ‘three’. It’s subtle, but visitors will see triads and triptychs of flowers, artwork and other odds and ends around our house. It’s subtle, but it’s our way of remembering.

We did join a support group. In fact, we participated in two of them. Easily the most helpful was New Hope, which offers grief support programs and services. In fact, it introduced us to some of our closest friends.

 

candles

And finally, each year, on June 4, Carey and I take the day off. I’m a guy who, though I’m loathe to admit it, isn’t always above working on Christmas. But, for us, June 4 is sacred. No clients, no freelance, no popping into the office to make sure my art director is meeting his deadlines. We design the day specifically to make sure absolutely nothing is going on. On the minute of each of their births, we light a candle to remember. And we then proceed to do whatever we want, which is often very little.

 

If your’e a grieving parent reading these words, understand that none of the above are obligations. Three years in, Carey and I are winging it, just like you are. If you’re worried you’re going to make the wrong choice, don’t. Your grief is yours and you get to decide how to live in it and through it.

That said, one piece of “don’t” advice for those who have experienced recent loss: don’t put it off. You’ll be tempted to delay decisions about burials and memorials and other things that require fast attention until your head is clearer, but trust me when I say it won’t be easier later. Allow yourself the freedom to choose something less than perfect. Less Than Perfect is going to be the status quo for awhile and you’ll need to find a way to work within that.

Also, one last thing to the newly-grieving parent. It’s been said so many times to Carey and me that we’re in full-blown cliché territory, but it bears repeating, so, begging your forgiveness:

It will always be hard. But it won’t always be this hard.

Today, if you’ve lost a child, you’re in my prayers and my heart is full for you. I’m sorry for your loss. But I’m overjoyed you’re with me, with us, in the world.

 

1) Jeremy
2) Rudyard, Desmond and Oscar
3) Saturday, June 4, 2011
4) sons
5) destroyed, angry, burdened, confused, broken
6) I miss my sons very much

 

 

Birthday

4 Jun

Today is (well, would’ve been) (well, is) the boys’ birthday. A year ago today, we met them and lost them.

I think nearly every parent of a dead child has the same epiphany about the anniversary of their child’s birth and/or death: let’s do what we can to associate the day with something positive. Let’s, I don’t know, have a party or take a trip or open up that champagne we’ve been saving. We’ll toast/sing/pray/light a candle/release a balloon/plant a garden/buy a puppy/recite a stirring passage from Whitman. It’ll be a day we’ll actually look forward to someday. We’ll flip it. We can do that, can’t we?

Sure.

And we’re doing some of those things. Not really because we want to turn the day into something cool or happy and not really because we want to make ourselves feel better. I suppose I don’t really know why we’re doing it. Maybe because we have to do something.

It’s hard to know how to describe the past year. 12 months later and I’m still trying to figure out what grief is, how it works, how to do it correctly. Frankly, I felt like I was better at it in the weeks immediately following than I am now. When those certain moments come, the Red Moments I call them, when they hit like a cinder block to the chest, there’s really not much to be done. Breathing exercises, hasty trips to the stalls in the office men’s room, mini mantras… they don’t really help as much as they should. You sort of have to wait them out. I thought I’d eventually get used to the Red Moments, that they’d hurt less and less as time goes by, but it doesn’t work that way. I suppose they come a little less often, which is something, but the bite is still strong as ever.

“I miss my boys,” I say often. Usually it’s when I’m alone in the car or maybe just into my hand, under my breath at work. Or the shower. I say it a lot in the shower.

And it’s not just ‘The Boys’ I miss, as if they’re one kid with three heads. It’ll be a different son on different days. I had a lot of Oscar days in the beginning. Then, for awhile, it was Rudyard almost nonstop. Only in recent months has my focus gone most often to Desmond. I don’t know why, I’m sure there’s some sort of science to this, but I’m not privy.

And you’d think, a year in, I’d quit making mental plans with them. “I can’t wait until the boys are old enough for Shel Silverstein.” “I wonder when I should start thinking about parental control stuff for our internet.” And then: “oh, right.”

Carey and I have met a lot of grieving people and we’ve both, at this point, been exposed to a truly formidable assortment of grief strategies. For example, when I hear someone refer to our kids as “Angel Babies”, I don’t know. It’s usually fine and I know that sort of thing helps a lot of people, but I sometimes can’t stop myself from wanting to drive my car through the wall of a Pizza Hut.

“Does it help to know they’re with God?” Not as much as you’d think.

“Are you trying for more?” Not at the moment, no.

“You do know that, in the short time you were with them, you were a wonderful father, right?”

No. I guess I don’t know that.

But, a year later, I just mostly want to talk to them without feeling like a fucking lunatic. If there was one thing my old man was never short on, it was advice. And is it so ridiculous that I really want to be able to do the same thing? That’s a man’s right, isn’t it?

Well, boys, for your birthday, that’s what I think I’d like to give you. Trust me, I’d rather this were something more along the lines of Tonka Trucks or clever T-shirts, but it is what it is. I realize this has much more to do with my own neediness and very little to do with your edification, but, today only, I’m not going to sweat it.

So here it is. Words of wisdom from your old, broken dad.

A Few Things I Wish I Could’ve Said

Rudyard:

When I was growing up, my own dad was full of advice for me and I didn’t always want to hear it. He seemed to have ideas on how I should be doing just about everything, from the sort of language I used to how I spent my Saturday afternoons.

But there was one piece of advice your granddad always gave me that’s stayed with me the most. Maybe it’s what he said most often or maybe I’m only remembering it that way. Anyhow, I’d mention something about being pushed around or ridiculed by the other kids. Or he’d overhear me repeating something vulgar or telling a particularly tasteless joke. His response was almost always the same:

“Son, rise above it.”

There were times that I hated “rise above it”, but I couldn’t deny it was a good thing for me to hear.

Rudyard, there are things you can’t really change about yourself, however much you might want it and one of those things, I’m proud to say, is that you’re a leader. I know it’s hard for you to remember, but kids look to other kids when they’re trying to decide who they are and how to act. They’re looking around for someone to imitate, someone who’s in on some sort of life secret. And you may not realize it, but other people your age, your brothers included, are looking to you.

You won’t always want to be an example, but those are the breaks, bud. I wish I could tell you that you get to coast sometimes, but that’s just not how it works. And, fair warning, there’ll be times when you’ll want to use your powers for temporary popularity. You’ll be tempted to reduce yourself for an easy laugh or a fast friend.

But remember who you are, what you’re about. Pettiness and cruelty: rise above it. The easy way out: rise above it.

Keep in mind that you have a family who loves you, who wants to see you become the best version of yourself. But mostly, remember that when you do mess up (and you will), I’m always proud of you.

Love you, Rudyard. Deep breaths, you’ll be fine.

Dad


Desmond:

When I first met your mother, there were two things I noticed: first, she was a very, very pretty lady. Second, I could tell right away that she was the most big-hearted individual I’d ever encountered.

It’s not so easy being the way she is, but you already know that. To a truly big-hearted, compassionate soul, the world can start to look awfully mean and cynical. Others don’t always understand why it’s so important for you to go to such ridiculous lengths to help those who can’t help themselves. They’d rather you were more like them: head down, unquestioning, self-serving, status quo.

But Des, the world doesn’t really work without people like you and your mom. It’s very difficult to be the person who stands up for others, who reminds us that it’s better to be selfless and good. It’s tempting to trade in your compassion for something quick and easy and fun. But there’s a tiny voice in the back of your brain telling you The Truth, no matter how loud the world gets. “Be kind,” it’s saying. And maybe that’s all it’ll ever say.

Don’t ever let anyone convince you that compassion and understanding are weaknesses. In fact, it takes more courage than just about anything. And it doesn’t stop when you’re a grown-up. Everyone everywhere will seem to have all sorts of reasons why compassion is silly or naive or inefficient or even intolerant. Don’t ever believe it.

You’re true blue, my big-hearted boy.

Your family loves you. Your dad, no matter what, is always proud of you.

Love you, Desmond.

Dad


Oscar:

Like you, I was not a very big guy growing up and I remember: it’s frustrating. You have people twice your size and half your intelligence making your life extremely difficult. And there are days when it seems like it’s never going to end. But also like you, I had something that most of the other kids didn’t. It was equal parts blessing and curse, but I decided early on to become very clever.

It’s fun being quick with a comeback. That bruise on your arm from the bully in your class will heal in a few days and, I know, it hurts. But the wisecrack you fired back at him about his crooked teeth? That’ll stay with him for years.

The fact is, Oz, you have to be careful with people. It’s often the little guy with the big brain that winds up intimidating everyone. Believe it or not, bullies bully because they’re scared. I know it doesn’t seem that way, but you’ll have to trust me on this. On the inside, bullies are smaller than everyone, so they tend to puff out their chests, ball up their fists and try their best to destroy everyone around them because they’ll do anything to keep people from discovering their secret.

You’ll be tempted to cut these fellows down to size, to expose them, to make them cry with your clever remarks and your sarcasm. And, okay, sometimes they should cry a little. But whether it’s them bullying you with their fists or you bullying them with your words, well, what’s difference?

You’re going to find, my man, that being funny is one of the best things in the world. It’s a gift and, just like Spider-Man, with great power comes great responsibility. Being able to make someone laugh means that, every so often, you get to be the right guy at the right time who makes someone feel good instead of feeling awful. Isn’t that the perfect sort of person to be?

I know your brothers are bigger than you, Oscar, so this will probably sound a little strange: but go easy on them. You’re able to say and do things that they can’t. You can think of things they’ll never consider. Use your powers for good.

Make us all laugh, guy. You’re good at it.

Your family loves you. Your dad is so, so proud of you.

Hang in there. Love you, Oz.

Dad

Anyway, if you’re reading this, thanks for indulging a brief dad and his ramblings on a particularly difficult day. Your grace and understanding is appreciated.

And Happy Birthday, my boys. Your dad misses you terribly.

Memorial Video: The Bear Triplets

28 Jun

Below is the video produced for the June 25th, 2011 memorial service for Rudyard, Desmond and Oscar Bear, our triplet sons.

Please be warned: while this video contains a handful of images from their brief lives, it also contains some imagery captured shortly after their passing. If you’re disturbed or offended by this sort of thing, please don’t feel any obligation to watch.

Thanks for celebrating them with us.